Can’t get back to sleep?

A few weeks ago I was talking about thinking with a client of mine and he asked me “how do you stop your thinking when it is keeping you awake in the middle of the night?”  At the time I couldn’t give him an answer because in actual fact I was having the same trouble.  I would wake up around 2am in the morning and still be awake 2 or even 3 hours later.

So I set about investigating this to see if I could come up with an answer both for myself and for him.  I decided to first of all observe what was happening for a few nights and this is what I noticed:

The first thing I did when I woke up in the night was look at the clock.   And I noticed that when I did that, a voice in my head said something like “oh yes 2am, that’s me awake for another 2 or 3 hours then!”  It was as if I was giving myself an instruction to stay awake. 

Because I know something about this thinking business I knew that I had to let my thinking go.  And I noticed that I would keep thinking “I must let this thought go”, “I must let this thinking go”, “this thinking is not helping, I must let it go” and I realised that I was trying to let go of my thinking by thinking about letting go of my thinking.  I realised that this is like trying to stop being drunk by drinking more alcohol!

Finally the other thing that I noticed was me convincing myself that some of the thinking was high quality, because occasionally I would actually think about something that was useful to me.  I’d come up with a solution or an idea for something I’d been stuck with. And after coming up with the idea I would keep on thinking about it, and that thought would go round and round in my head – a definite indicator of low quality thinking.  A more useful thought would be “ok I’ve got that  - now let’s go to sleep!”

So I’ve changed some very simple things and so far they have made a significant difference to my sleep patterns (as proven by my health monitor arm band).

So here’s what I did:

First of all I turned the clock around so it faces the wall and I can’t see it.  I know the alarm will go off when I need to wake up in the morning.  When I wake up in the night, even though I turn towards the clock I would have to physically move the clock to be able to see it and I choose not to do so.  I remind myself that when it’s time to wake up the alarm will go off.

When I notice that I am caught up in my thinking I acknowledge the fact that I am thinking and that the thoughts will fall away in their own time.  Metaphorically I think of it as holding onto leaves in my hand, when I open my hand the leaves can either fall away or be blown away by the wind, without me having to think about letting them go.  And finally I’m acknowledging that this is low quality thinking, just by virtue of the fact that it’s taking place at this time in the morning, when real wisdom would be letting me know that it’s time to sleep.   If I’ve had a good idea, I trust myself that I will remember it in the morning.  Now I don’t know if these ideas will work for you.  But I wonder what you would notice if you just observed yourself for a few nights when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking.  And then what would your wisdom tell you about what to change in order for you to be able to break the pattern?

This entry was tagged Acceptance, Anxiety, Worry, Quality of Thinking and posted on September 1, 2016

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